The Dreadnought Boys

02 August, 2009

Boys playing a game of Greasy Pole on board the TSS Beltana, 1929.
Boys playing a game of Greasy Pole on board the TSS Beltana, 1929.
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Who were the Dreadnought Boys?

Answer: Systematic youth migration to Australia began in the early years of the 20th century and continued for over seventy years, involving approximately 30,000 school-aged immigrants under a number of schemes. One such program was known as the Dreadnought Scheme which commenced when the Trustees of the Dreadnought Fund entered into an agreement with the NSW Government to bring out British boys between the ages of 16 and 19.

A training farm was purchased in Pitt Town, Sydney; the arrangement stipulated that boys brought out needed to be “of good character and physique” and that the Fund pay the Government £5 for each of the lads sent to the training farm. The aim was to offer practical training to young British men in the ways of Australian farming techniques and to assist in the development and encouragement of British immigration to Australia.

The first twelve "Dreadnought boys" arrived on 21 April 1911 into Hobart on the SS Tainui, then changed to the SS Paloona for the trip from Hobart to Sydney. The boys required two references and a medical certificate to make the journey. They were followed by 27 others in June of the same year.
 
The scheme ran on and off for the next 28 years. It was halted by the First World War, recommenced in 1921, then ceased again during the Great Depression for a period of six years. In February 1915, 2,557 boys had arrived; when the last group arrived in September 1939, the total number of Dreadnought boys had reached 5,595. 

Today, the training farm and migrant accommodation centre at Scheyville near Pitt Town is part of the Scheyville National Park, and a visitor centre is overseen by the New South Wales Migration Heritage Centre. A plaque located in Sydney’s historic Rocks area honours those who came to Australia under the scheme. This plaque, paid for by “The Boys” themselves, commemorates the lives of the several thousands of Dreadnought Boys who arrived in Sydney between 1911 and 1939.

Further Reading

Alan Gill. Likely Lads and Lasses: Youth Migration to Australia 1911-1983. Marrickville: BBM Ltd, 2005.

Comments (42)

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Christine Griffiths 14 January, 2014 00:07
Researching my father's journey on the ss Esperance Bay in 1939. He was 14 yrs old and emigrated to Australia with his brother who was 16 yrs old. I think it was sponsored by an organisation and trying to establish which one. Henry Felton D.O.B 11/8/1924 was my father and Peter Felton was his brother. Esperance Bay sailed from Southampton on 8th March 1939. My father returned to the UK in 1949 but his brother never returned, only to visit. We now have 3rd generation Aussie's. From one man (my Uncle Peter) there are now more than 20 rellies in NSW. My father was sent to a dairy farm, I believe it was in Cabargo NSW. Could anyone help with info please?
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allen seymour 16 December, 2013 03:23
My Gran's Brother 'Leslie C Wilson' left London 3rd Dec 1913 (at 17yrs) on the Wilcannia P&O arriving Sydney 2 Feb 1914 hee seems to be in part of 2 groups of 8-9 young farmers 17-24yrs. Any records to indicate if he was a Dreadnought boy.
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Discovery Centre 16 December, 2013 13:23

Hi Allen - we do not hold records ourselves, but there are several places you might like to try for any correspondence or records specific to your relative. The State Records Office of NSW holds all the records of immigration and arrivals for that time period. Additionally, the National Archives of Australia has an online guide to the records available for the Dreadnought scheme. You may find the book listed above, Likely Lads and Lasses, to be of more general interest.

Garry Maskell 21 October, 2013 06:51
Hi does any one have information on a william worth sailed on ss tainui march 1911. Lived in york st . Waterloo . Liverpool.
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Margaret Gayler 16 July, 2013 11:53
I have just in the past 4 weeks found out that my late father James Robert Wright came to Australia as a 17yr old Dreadnought boy arriving on the Balranald in Sydney Dec 1927. Thus he was sent to Scheyville west of Sydney. Could please tell me where I could find out more information about where was sent after arriving at Scheyville please.
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Discovery Centre 17 July, 2013 15:42
Hi Margaret, there are a couple of links on the right hand side that may be useful.  You might also find the Fields of Memories website an interesting and useful place to find out information about Scheyville.
Mal Hardie 1 April, 2013 21:43
Trying to trace history of my father Harold Hardie who attended Wollongbar in 1929
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Discovery Centre 15 March, 2013 13:37

Hi Melissa, we have sent you an email with some further information and useful links for your family history research.

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Melissa Norris 9 March, 2013 16:20
Hi, i am tracing some details of my great Uncle Horace Walter Ball who family history so far indicates he (and his brother Arch Ball) was part of one the early child migration movements. His shipping records (Otaki) state he came in 1920, however all my reading so far seem to show that the scheme's halted during this time. Do you happen to have his name pop up in any of these early records? he was born 1905. thank you. Melissa
discoverycentre 10 March, 2013 13:16

Hi Melissa,

The National Archives of Australia have several correspondence files regarding the Dreadnought Scheme. Descriptions of these can be found along with a general introduction to the scheme at this website. You should contact the NAA for further information about this material in particular with regards to individual records of children involved in the scheme at that time.

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John Dreha 13 January, 2013 20:42
My Dad, Thomas Joseph Dreha is one of the last surviving Dreadnought boys. He is now 90 years old. He attended the 100 year anniversary at Scheyville NSW. He is still very pleased that he was part of the scheme even though he originally had a few issues to deal with. The organisation looked after him very well, he still has nothing but praise for the Big Brother movement. He fought in the Second World war for Australia and fought in New Guinea, Borneo and Sarawak. He was part of the thin green line that fought the Japanese on the beaches of New Guinea. He now has an extended family of dozens of proud little Aussies.
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Donna 31 October, 2012 21:50
My grandfather Norman Richardson born in 1909 Newcastle England arrived here on the DIOGENES 1st Sept 1924. The dreadnought boys were on this ship so I assume he was one of them as he was a few months shy of being 15 yrs old and on his own. The NAA dont really hold records regarding the migration of children or youth and couldn't really help me with any recaords. The NAA told me that the NSW State Government is more than likely to know more. It would be great to hear of anyone who has had success finding any records.
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KerrieAnneC 30 November, 2013 14:38
I am researching Norman Richardson - I believe his wife was Ethel Doris ? refer http://hicksfamilynorthillawarra.wordpress.com/james-children/00-where-did-james-hicks-children-go-to/3-son-richard-hicks/
Roger Bailey 25 June, 2012 16:58
My father, Robert Carlyon Bailey, told me that he was a Dreadnought Boy and arrived in Sydney on the SS Euripedes at the end of the 1st WW (although I'm a bit hazy on this point). I'm trying to track down any record of him from this time. Can anyone help?
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Discovery Centre 26 June, 2012 16:01
Hi Roger, please read our responses to similar questions above, they will let you know where to go to access records.
Discovery Centre 17 March, 2012 10:58
Hi Nel, all immigration records are held by the National Archives of Australia. For further information on how to search for and/or obtain these records, please read our infosheet on A Quick guide to passenger lists on the internet.
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Nel Bush 16 March, 2012 19:02
My Father WILLIAM BUSH arrived Sydney 11-5-1923 on Euripides, Dreadnought Scheme. I am seeking his personal migration records, ie 'medical' and references. Does anyone know where they are held.
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Donna Richardson 2 November, 2012 23:17
Hi Nel, I was wondering if you have had any luck locating any records about your father. I have spoke to the NAA and they gave me a shipping record but couldnt help with anything else. I also spoke with the NSW state records and they couldnt help me with anything either.
Samantha Wood 27 February, 2012 08:14
I am trying to find out if my uncle, Thomas Dreha went to Australia via the Dreadnaught scheme? How would I go about searching for this information. Many thanks.
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Discovery Centre 27 February, 2012 12:44

Hello Samantha, as the Dreadnought Scheme was a government-assisted migrant scheme you may be able to find more information about migrants that were involved in the scheme via the National Archives of Australia.

Errol White 6 February, 2012 23:00
My Father, Charles White arrived in October 1928 on the SS Orford, went to Glenn Innes Training Farm where he met a school friend Ralph Orr who had arrived a couple of months earlier. Dad and Ralph worked on different farms from the Denman Area in NSW to Gladstone in QLD, both finally settling down in Kingaroy Queendland, both married local girls. Charles never returned to the UK although his mother regretted the day she signed the papers to let her sixteen year old son migrate. Charles loved Australia, finally retiring as a Railway Station Master. He maintained he had a successful and fullfilling live here.
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Jan Kingshott 21 December, 2011 04:42
My grandad, Walter Ernest Kingshott, was a Dreadnought Boy. He sailed out to Sydney, arriving on board the "Bendigo" in 1930. He eventually returned here to England, but always loved Australia which he classed as his spiritual home.
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Sarina Sharp 9 September, 2011 12:01
I have learnt more from this page than my family could tell me. I was told my father came out on the Dreadnought ship. I now realise that this was not the name of his ship but the scheme under which he emigrated. Now I am really keen to find out the name of the ship and the year he arrived here. I am writing my memoirs and his history is vital to make sense of my past. His name was Leonard Kirton and I think he was around 17 when he left England.
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David Parker 23 August, 2011 08:06
I am wondering if there is any information about my father, Gilbert Arthur Parker who arrived on the Euripides in May 1923. He was at Scheyville and then at Morisset, NSW. We would like to know the exact dates at Scheyville and any other details available about his stay there, and where he was in Morisset. Thanks
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Catherine Crout-Habel 26 July, 2011 03:33
Just wanted to say how delighted I am to discover the scheme my dad came over on and this site. His name is Harry Crout, born 1912, Leeds, Yorkshire, and arrived in Sydney on the Ballarat on 13 Jun 1928. His certificate for completing agricultural training was from the Wollongbar Experimental Farm, NSW
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Ian Scrutton 6 July, 2011 02:37
Trying to trace details of wife's uncle, Norman Harry Stephens, who emigrated from London in 1914, just before war broke out, and was probably part of the Dreadnaught Scheme. Any help appreciated.
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Rachel Imeson 26 June, 2011 21:10
My Grandfather, Sidney Black emigrated to Australia under the Dreadnought Scheme in early 1920's. Any information of him would sincerely appreciated to keep track of my grandfather's history.
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Leonie White 4 June, 2011 10:58
My father John Thomas arrived in Australia onboard the SS Largs Bay in 1929. He has written about his life experiences. Dad trained in Scheyville and then worked in dairying in the Wagga, Young,Braidwood and south coast area. He went from place to place on a push bike! Leonie White
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Peter Charles Joyce 4 April, 2011 13:43
My father, Charles Washburn Joyce and two friends, Alex Robbe and Jack Hobbs arrived in Victoria as Dreadnought Boys in 1911. My father never spoke of his background; and I am keen to learn more about his early days. All three boys enlisted in the AIF in 1914 and served in every theatre of WWI. All 3 returned to Melbourne in late 1918. Any information of these boys from 1911 to 1914 would be sincerely appreciated.
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Discovery 1 March, 2011 10:13

On March 4th 2011 the Dreadnought Association will be celebrating 100 years since the first boys sailed from England. They have also passed on information to some of your enquiries;

  1. (Phyllis Nebauer) Charles Martin Redgrave was a Dreadnought who came on the “Ballarat”, arriving on 13/6/28. He trained at Grafton.
  2. (Barbara Sharkey) Benjamin Watson came on the “Themistocles”. He arrived on 2/11/26 and trained at Yanco. We have not found anything about his contact in 1977.
  3. (John Callaghan) Bert William Jones does not appear in our lists. We know that a number of boys (including a group of 30) stayed in Victoria, but this was in later years.
  4. (Clare Wallace) John Eric Stackman is not on the list and probably not a Dreadnought.
  5. (Julie Seager) Frederick Seager arrived on the “Euripides” on 22/12/22. We have nothing after his training at Scheyville. (Working back from his address on the BMDNSW marriage registration may give a clue.)
  6. (Karen Hughes) Leonard Philpot arrived on the “Bendigo” on 30/7/26. We have nothing after his training at Scheyville.
  7. (Jean Cooke) Harold Gresswell was a Dreadnought who arrived in Sydney on the “Largs Bay” on 4/3/29. He trained at Cowra in Central West NSW – he may have found work in this area, but we have no record about it. (Try the Cowra Family History Group, P.O. Box 495 , Cowra NSW 2794.)

They can be contacted by writing to;

Hon. Secretary, Dreadnought Association Inc., 7 Elliot Avenue, Alstonville NSW 2477.

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Jean Cooke nee Gresswell 28 December, 2010 23:17
My uncle Harold Gresswell sailed to Sydney from England on the s.s. LargsBay on 23rd Jan 1929 and I believe he was a Dreadnought Boy. Can anyone give me any more info about him, as we here in England never heard from him again and I would love to know if I have any cousins in Australia.
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Discovery Centre 20 December, 2010 14:04
Hi Karen, a good place to start would be the National Archives of Australia (NAA), from which you can obtain information about the Dreadnought Boys scheme, as well as your grandfather's personal immigration records. See our answers to the enquirers above for links to the NAA and further information.
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Karen Hughes 19 December, 2010 20:29
My grandfather.Lenoard Philpot came to Australia in 1926,from Sufolk England,He arrived on the S.S Bendigo.he was a Dreadnaught boy.I am looking for any information that could help me track my pop's history. "manythanks"
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Discovery Centre 12 November, 2010 11:19
Hi Julie. I do think the best thing for you to do would be to contact the National Archives. Through their Making Australia Home project you can request any immigration or, indeed, other records that refer to your grandfather. You don't need to go in and should contact them online to gain access and, in fact, not all the documents would be there if you did as they're kept in different locations. The link to the right under external links also provides detailed information about what types of documents they have that you might access. We hope this helps & good luck!
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Julie Seager 11 November, 2010 22:33
My grandfather, Fred Seager, was born in Broomfield Reculver in 1905. He was a Dreadnaught Boy and arrived in 1922 per Euripides. He spent several months at Scheyville and I believe was placed somewhere in the Adelong region - he did have prior farm experience. He never spoke of his experiences and we didn't know about this part of his past until he was examined for by a compensation doctor when he was nearly 90 years old. It was then that he told the doctor he was a dreadnaught boy. He married my grandmother in Tumbarumba in 1932. How can I find out where he was placed between 1922 and then? Any information, even general, I would be grateful to receive. I can get to the National Archives if there is a file there to view. regards Julie Smith (Seager)
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Discovery Centre 24 August, 2010 11:24

Clare, the National Archives of Australia have several correspondence files regarding the Dreadnought Scheme. Descriptions of these can be found along with a general introduction to the scheme at this website. You should contact the NAA for further information about this material.

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Clare Wallace 21 August, 2010 23:32
I am searching for an uncle, John Eric Stackman, (dob 04.08.1913) who came to NSW in late 1920's to work on farms. He never spoke about this aspect of his life. He later joined the Australian Army and served in the Middle East in WW 2. The only information I can find relates to his army service. He died some 3 years ago. Is there a site where I could search for his name in relation to Dreadnought boys or Fairbridge? Thanks.
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Discovery Centre 19 May, 2010 12:34

Hi John - As the Dreadnought Scheme was a government-assisted migrant scheme you may be able to find more information about migrants that were involved in the scheme via the National Archives of Australia. James’ Jupp’s ‘The Australian People’ contains more general information about assisted migration in the early twentieth century and the section ‘Settlement 1881-1914’, pp. 49-53, may also be of interest  to you.

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John Callaghan 17 May, 2010 17:38
My grandfather Bert William Jones arrived in Melbourne Australia from London aboard the 'Wakool'on or about Dec 16 1911 I noted his listed occupation was a 'Farmhand' as was 20 of the other passengers ,this made me think he may have been one of the Dreadnought Boys as he later settled in Heyfield Victoria & when he enlisted for service in the First World War he gave his occupation as a "Farmer" Can anybody shed light on the Dreadnought boys in Victoria ?
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Barbara Sharkey (nee Watson) 11 February, 2010 16:51
My father, Benjamin Watson, born 18 March 1910, came to Australia in 1926. In 1977 he wrote to the Telegraph after seeing an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 19 June 1977 about the Dreadnought Boys, seeking to make contact. Don't know whether he did or not. Can anyone help.
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Phyllis Nebauer Nee Redgrave 30 October, 2009 12:44
Trying to locate if my father Charles Martin Redgrave came to Australia as a Dreadnought Boy. His DOB was 9-7-2011. Appreciate it if someone can help me.
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Geoff Swallow 3 February, 2014 17:50
Hello Phyllis, I just noticed you query doing some further RAAF research on your father. Are you still looking for information? Please feel free to contact me on my email address attached. Regards Geoff